Harnessing technology as part of positive missions
As technology becomes omnipresent in business and in people’s lives great care has to be taken by retailers and others to ensure that it can be a massive force for good and not become solely the preserve of a select group of fortunate, connected individuals.
Speaking at the recent Wired Smarter Conference in central London, Jo Swinson MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats, told a room full of delegates: “We continue to invest in the technology sector but we also want to ensure that new technologies are deployed for the benefit of the whole of society. There are no limits on how great the tech sector could be in the UK. We can be the world leader in ethically-applied AI. The UK can be at the forefront, leading the revolution.”
Extracting data from silos
At the heart of the UK’s cutting edge AI developments is data, which Helen Hunter, group chief data officer at Sainsbury’s, is grappling with at the supermarket as she removes the silos within which it is constrained and works towards making it available across the whole of the business – comprising Sainsbury’s food retail operation and Argos.
“We need to build a technology [infrastructure] that is multi-brand and also democratises data in our business so we can always see a customer in a 360 degree view. We have a phenomenal data asset – probably the pre-eminent one in the UK – and we want to make it usable by all and not just locked into the silo’d brands,” she suggests.
Sainsbury’s Tech has been created with the objective of moving the technology out of the teams within the brands and for it to be more united. By more effectively pooling the data the 150-year-old company is better able to compete with those businesses that were born in the digital age.
Importance of personalisation
One of the benefits of this approach is the ability to personalise the proposition to individual customers. Hunter says the data related to the 30,000 food SKUs and the 19 million Nectar loyalty card holders’ previous behaviours are analysed in order to determine the products they will be most interested in purchasing. “These are real-time predictions using large scale machine learning activity.”
Personalisation is very much behind the endeavours at Matchesfashion.com that has created the 5 Carlos Place ‘store’ to showcase its brand through an intimate knowledge of its customers’ lifestyles – hence it is not focused on directly selling product but instead encompasses supper clubs, events, and personal shopper services, along with a broadcasting hub on one floor of the building that creates content.
Although 95% of its sales are online and only a fraction of its customers will ever visit 5 Carlos Place, Jess Christie, chief brand officer at Matchesfashion.com, says the company has embraced broadcasting and activities at the store have reached two billion to date from distributing the content via the key social platforms.
Retailers as broadcasters
“We think of ourselves as broadcasters. Our content has evolved and is key to our growth and 5 Carlos Place delivers myriad broadcasting opportunities,” she says, adding that the strategy has certainly delivered some powerful metrics.
The order value for those customers who engage with content is double the average amount, they are also twice as likely to return to Matchesfashion.com, and they spend seven minutes online versus four minutes for other shoppers.
For Kresse Wesling, co-founder of Elvis & Kresse, the issue of metrics is an interesting one and she says the key measurement is impact. Wesling believes other companies should switch their focus in this direction: “We should stop focusing on GDP, profits and the other traditional measures of success and instead focus on impact.”
It’s all about the mission
For Elvis & Kresse this is very much baked into the business model as it focuses on reducing waste going into landfill by crafting luxury goods from these waste materials and then donating 50% of its profits to charitable causes.
Its activities are driven by a view that the fashion and luxury industry has “completely failed” in terms of its production practices – that are among the most polluting of any sectors. “Leather waste is one issue with 500,000 tonnes per year being wasted. We use offcuts to give perpetual existence to this. We can take £410 of waste leather and turn it into £100,000 of value in products,” explains Wesling.
A new aspect of the business is the creation of a forge into which waste aluminium cans are melted down in order to create new items. The company is currently co-creating the forge with a variety of interested external parties. Within the next 18 months she hopes it will be helping Elvis & Kresse create things such as the buckles for its belts, which are made from de-commissioned fire hoses.
Recognising the value in re-use
This re-use of materials is also integral to the Depop business that provides a platform for people to create their own online presences and sell a curated range of used and vintage goods. Marie Petrovicka, VP of international at Depop, says the platform is particularly popular with young people – 90% of its users are under the age of 26 – who are both entrepreneurial and feel particularly strongly about environmental issues.
“Anybody can set up a shop and they are all about the people. People are buying into other people. Depop is all about the community and important to them is sustainability. Our customers care deeply about the world and we help them extend the life of millions of garments,” she says.
Petrovicka says Depop is “empowering the next generation to transform fashion” and proof of their attraction to the platform is the research finding that they regard fast fashion as unsustainable and as such they are adopting second hand clothing at twice the speed of any other generation.
Growing into the future
Also recognising the growing importance of impact and mission to the business models of the future is Ryan Mario Yasin, founder of Petit Pli, who has brought together his expertise in aeronautical science and his time studying at the Royal College of Art to design and develop a range of unique flexible children’s clothing that grow with the child.
“The garment is made from recycled water bottles and grows bio-directionally so we can extend the life of clothes. They grow so can be worn from nine months to the age of four,” he explains, adding that the soft launch in 2018 has enabled the company to garner a lot of feedback that will result in an improved version two as Petit Pli works with a batch of organisations such as the James Dyson Foundation and Innovate UK.
By Glynn Davis.
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